Len Preslar talks with the Winston Salem Journal about his new challenge as executive director of the Schools of Business health-management programs

8.17.2009 Article, Healthcare, School News

New Post Viewed as a Chance to 'Give Back'
Originally Published: August 16, 2009
By Richard Craver | Winston Salem Journal Reporter

A deep abiding love of Wake Forest University has persuaded Len Preslar Jr. to take on another health-care challenge for the university.

Last week, Preslar, who turned 62 on Thursday, was named the executive director of the health-management programs for the university's Schools of Business.

He was also named as a distinguished professor of practice for the business school — a post similar to the one John Allison, the chairman and retired chief executive of BB&T Corp., accepted last year.

Preslar is no stranger to the university, having worked at N.C. Baptist Hospitals Inc. for 38 years, retiring in 2007 after 19 years as president and chief executive. He retired shortly after the decision was made to hire the first chief executive for Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

Preslar took time out to talk about his new challenge. An edited version follows:

Q. Why take on this challenge at this stage in life and career, given the successes you had with N.C. Baptist Hospital?

A. It's actually a rather easy decision for me.

Even as I left what has been a dream career for me at the medical center, I felt there was yet one more adventure ahead for me — perhaps not as all consuming as leading the hospital was at times, yet meaningful and exciting.

I love Wake Forest. This is where it all began for me, where I began working at Baptist Hospital while an undergraduate at the university. I now have the opportunity to build an exciting program for students which opens career opportunities for them as I've enjoyed. It's an opportunity to "give back" in several regards. And selfishly, it fills my days quite enjoyably working among bright, energetic and committed people — both students and faculty/staff. Truthfully, it is perfect for this time of my career.

Q. What do you expect to be the main challenge and the main opportunity of the Wake Forest business school health-management program?

A. The opportunities are almost boundless.

Business-related careers in health care are a major segment of business careers in general. Our students have asked for the program for years, seeing good jobs for which they would be better qualified and more competitive in pursuing — if they had courses tailored for those jobs.

Thus demand for the program is strong and will grow. We have solid assets to call upon from the faculties at Wake Forest University Health Sciences and within the Schools of Business now to begin the program quickly and well.

Recruiting new faculty to Wake Forest to enrich the curriculum will not be difficult. I'm already finding that recruiting business leadership to support the programs will not be difficult, either. I invite calls from persons and businesses who have interest in supporting our programs with project opportunities, as guest lecturers, panelists or in other creative ways.

Our vision is to develop distinctiveness for our programs to differentiate us from competing programs, while maintaining a focus that prepares students for success within a sector of our economy which is constantly changing. That is also part of what makes the endeavor so exciting for us.

Q. Do you have a specific example that hammered home the need for such a program?

A. Every year, we have great students enter our MBA programs and ask for a health concentration.

We know we lose very talented students each year to other schools that have established health-care programs. This concentration has presented itself as a clear opportunity for our students, and for Wake Forest, whose business school is underrepresented in the health-care sector.

We also recognize that many health-care managers come from clinical backgrounds, moved into management roles because they demonstrated potential for growth. But management excellence is learned, just as clinical excellence is learned. Our programs will give clinical professionals the opportunity to develop business skills more quickly and effectively.

Our students, in their careers, will have opportunities to be part of reframing how health care is planned, organized, financed and conducted.

Q. Will there be a particular focus/agenda of the program considering how broad the subject can be?

A. Yes, the subject area is broad and our initial program focus is for students within the full-time MBA program who desire a health-care concentration, meaning their second year will be comprised of required and elective courses tailored to health care.

There are two tracks initially in the second-year concentration: operations, and entrepreneurship/innovation, each after foundational courses in public policy/public health.

Courses within each track, as well as additional tracks, will evolve, as will additional programs beyond this concentration.

Q. How do you project Wake Forest participating in the hot-button issues in the health-care industry?

A. We'll have symposia here at the university, which will be open to our students, as well as the public. Additionally, we will have guest-panel discussions with students and faculty. We'll become thought leaders in the industry and an even more respected resource for news, businesses, legislative representatives and others who wish to understand issues, problems, proposals and opportunities within the ever changing landscape of health care.

Virtually everyone is impacted by health care issues, and it will always be a vital part of our economy, anywhere in this country and world. We intend to play an active role as the industry continues to grow and evolve.

¦ Richard Craver can be reached at 727-7376 or at rcraver@wsjournal.com